Tripoli's support will enable New Delhi to land its planes in interior areas
With no signs of violence ending in Libya, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna spoke to his Libyan counterpart Mussa Kussa on Tuesday and sought his support to evacuate Indians from Libya. Tripoli's support would enable India to land its planes in the interiors where about 1,000 Indians working on oil fields and in hospitals are holed up.
Of the 18,000 Indians in Libya, 3,504 have been safely evacuated till now, including 1,134 from Tripoli by Air India and 1,188 from Benghazi by a ferry boat Scotia Prince. Some Indians have taken the land route to enter neighbouring Egypt.
Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said the focus was on Indian nationals but New Delhi would try to evacuate people from other nationalities because it would be left with spare capacity after the task was over. Following Israel's attack on Lebanon in 2006, Indian ships had evacuated nationals from Nepal and Sri Lanka along with its citizens.
She said 20 per cent of the Indians in Libya had been brought safely to other locations. She took umbrage at comparisons with China, which had evacuated all its 30,000-odd nationals. “We are not in competition with China here. We're focussed on the task of bringing back our people safe and sound. Please let's not devalue this,” Ms. Rao tweeted in the afternoon.
The External Affairs Ministry had started issuing emergency certificates to stranded Indians to enable them to travel without passport. Of the 3,000 Indians who have left Libya, several have taken the land route on their own. While 864 Indians have been housed at Djerba in Tunisia; 175 crossed over from Selloum to Cairo and 126 have come out by other efforts.
The biggest evacuation took place by the sea route with the solitary ferry engaged by India beginning to take on passengers. Ms. Rao said 175 nurses were among the first lot of passengers to have boarded the ferry.
Meanwhile, Defence Minister A.K. Antony said the Indian Air Force's heavy lift planes, the Il-76, would be pressed into service, if called on to do so.
“The Navy has sent its warships. The Air Force is also ready. Whether it is for Libya or other countries, if the government wants their services, they can also be sent,” said Mr. Antony when asked whether the Defence Ministry planned to deploy IAF planes.
On Saturday, the Navy had despatched three ships, including the U.S. origin assault ship INS Jalashwa and the destroyer INS Mysore for evacuation. The ships are likely to reach Benghazi next week and will transport the stranded Indians to Alexandria in Egypt from where they will be flown home on Air India aircraft. The Jalashwa, because of its configuration, will be able to carry 1,500 passengers.